Chuck Spielman: Coasting Along

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 03/2015
  • posted in: Great Garages

Chuck Spielman’s dad was a Chevy dealer in Brooklyn, so his love of cars began very early. After serving in the Army until 1970, Chuck entered the commercial real estate business in New York City and began collecting, always dreaming of creating an antique and classic car business.

Today, on the other coast, his San Diego-based collection is eclectic, covering 1930−1969 with 35 collectible classics, and five contemporary performance cars.

“There is no central theme but rather a love of everything automotive from all eras,” he says. In addition to collectible automobiles, he has period-correct memorabilia including gas pumps, road signs, art and vintage literature.

For him, the cars in his collection represent the best of period. “And, the surroundings are fun for everyone who sees it. It is bright and cheerful, and the operation is very much a family business with my daughter Laura being at my side every day,” he says.

“Each of the cars mentioned above were selected because of their unique place in American history and their timeless design and performance,” Chuck says. “Each vehicle to me is an example of rolling art.”

•1930 Duesenberg Convertible Sedan –– Three years ago, this iteration of the American classic, some say the finest American car ever built, was voted Best In Class at Pebble Beach the year the Concours theme was the Duesenberg.

“Duesy’s are considered by many the most outrageous car of the 1930s,” he says. “In the depths of the Depression, when people could not feed their families, the cost of a finished Duesenberg was $25,000.”

The family Duesenberg is driven religiously every month: “I am a firm believer that mechanical things need to run. There is no feeling in the world like driving this magnificent car on a beautiful San Diego day looking down the long hood and feeling like you are the king of the world.”

•1934 Packard 12-cylinder Convertible Coupe –– The year after the Duesenberg won at Pebble Beach, this other great American pre-war car was a class winner at Pebble Beach 2012. It’s the first car Chuck scored 100 points in a national competition.

A close friend found it in a field in Wyoming; he suggested it would be an ideal car to restore. The car was sent to the Stone Barn in New Jersey for a total restoration. “Once the restoration began, I was told that the dry Wyoming weather had preserved the car beautifully with a frame that needed nothing. The accolades received since the restoration justify the cost.”

•1964 289 Cobra –– He’s owned this same car twice. “It’s extremely special to me because my children grew up with it, and if I was told I could keep only one car, this would be it,” he says.

He first purchased it in 1984, and sold it 1988 after receiving “an offer I could not refuse.” He repurchased the Shelby in 1998, proving, he says, “that sometimes there are second chances in life.

“Every time I go for a drive, the clock winds backwards, and I see my children who are now adults young again screaming for joy at the sound of the exhaust and the thrill of the speed.”

•1934 Prototype Bowlus Papoose Travel Trailer –– Hawley Bowlus was a fabrication foreman at Ryan Aviation in San Diego and was involved in the building of Charles Lindbergh’s The Spirit of St. Louis, the plane that made the first trans-oceanic flight and now flies high in the Smithsonian in Washington. During the build, the two men befriended, finding that they loved gliding in the California desert.

Because there were no hotels in the desert, Bowlus decided to build an aluminum trailer for them to use after gliding: The Bowlus Trailer Company was born. Unfortunately, The Great Depression forced Bowlus to close; the company is now The Airstream Corporation, the leading travel trailer manufacturer.

This is the only prototype ever made for the entry-level trailer known, the Papoose. The trailer is furnished with all the period correct 1930s accessories, from the vintage trailer publications to 1930s cooking equipment.

“Correctly presenting our trailer and vehicles in a period setting is one of my fondest passions,” he says, noting that while it is very probable that Lindbergh was in this trailer because it was the only one of its kind, he has no proof of this.

•1955 Mercedes Gullwing –– The great classic of the ‘50s and a true automotive icon, this fantastic car has Rudge wheels and fitted luggage. Every serious collector wants one of these, which debuted in 1954.

The street cars were modeled from those that Mercedes campaigned and won with worldwide. “The iconic doors have remained a fascination for collectors for 60 years, and if the car had been introduced today instead of 60 years ago it would have created the same sensation now that did then,” Chuck says.

•1957 Mercedes Benz 300SL Roadster –– A pair to the Gullwing but a convertible with conventional doors, this successor is the “perfect vehicle” to take on tour or drive on weekends, he says.

This wonderful Roadster has had only three previous owners and was the subject of a body-off restoration prior to its purchase in 2013. “We are truly fortunate to have both the Gullwing and the Roadster as a permanent part of our collection,” Chuck says.

•1947 Ford Sportsman Convertible –– Approximately 3,000 of these great woodies were produced between 1946 and 1948. This one is one of very few to have received the coveted Dearborn Award for originality and restoration excellence.

Sportsman models were extremely labor intensive and were selected from the standard production line and entrusted to special production assembly by master carpenters who would create the sections of mahogany and birds-eye maple that make up the bodies, he says.

“A true work of art, the likes of which we will never see again.”

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